Updated: Jan 9
Missing Since September 16, 1977
Robert Christian was an 18 year old UW-Madison freshman in September, 1977, with hopes to eventually work in computer programming. He had spent the summer working for the city parks department to save up some money for school and he appeared excited about his future prospects.
On Friday, September 16th, 1977, Robert made last-minute plans for the weekend with Randy Griffith, a family friend. They had decided Robert would drive to Randy’s house in Baraboo later that night so they could head to Baraboo Bluffs together in the morning to go bow hunting. Robert ate dinner with his family that evening, then packed his hunting equipment and clothes. He drove away in his Hornet station wagon around 5:30 that night.
Robert ran a few errands in town prior to getting on the road to Baraboo. Robert’s mother, Carolynn Christian, was taking two of Robert’s younger siblings to a football game that evening and she and Robert happened to pass and wave to each other in their cars near the town bank. Robert had stopped there to take out $25 of the cash he had saved from his summer job. After leaving the bank, he went to Walgreens and bought a pack of cigars.
The trip to Randy’s house in Baraboo should have taken Robert less than one hour without any additional stops. But Robert still hadn’t arrived by 9:30PM, which worried Randy’s mother. She called Carolynn Christian to let her know Robert still hadn’t made it to their house. Carolynn was concerned by this news and she immediately sprang into action, calling both the Sherriff’s Office and State Patrol to check if Robert might have been involved in a car accident. Her next call was to the Madison Police Station so she could file a missing person report, but police informed the family they would not be able to open a missing person report until the following day. Upon hearing this news, Robert's father Lewis Christian immediately made plans with Robert’s younger brother Mike to search Sauk County themselves for any sign of Robert’s location.
The next morning, Saturday, September 17th, Lewis and Mike were driving near the location of the planned hunting expedition when they saw Robert’s Hornet parked in a lane just off a road known locally as “Lovers Lane” near the State Patrol relay antenna on Tower Road. The license plate was missing from the car and the vehicle no longer had wheels or tires. Even the battery was missing.
Robert’s high school jacket and the change of clothes he had packed for his trip were still in the station wagon. His hunting gear was missing, as well as some nursing equipment Carolynn Christian had left in the car. There was no blood in the car and signs of a struggle were not readily apparent.
A major investigation was conducted by law enforcement into Robert’s disappearance. National Guard helicopters searched over open fields but found nothing of note. Bloodhounds picked up on Robert’s scent near the area where the car was found, but they lost the trace when they got near Tower Road. A witness told police that on the day Robert disappeared she had briefly spoken with someone matching Robert’s description in the Durfrey Glen area. According to her, Robert said he was looking for his friend but must be in the wrong place. She said she saw him depart in his car, heading east. Police inspected the car for fingerprints but only one print was revealed to have been made by a person unrelated to the Christians. No further information has been made available regarding this print.
Further investigation into the vehicle stripping revealed an unusual method of removing the wheels without the use of a jack. Police found the car’s hubcaps along with four old tires from another car in a quarry near the Badger Army Ammunition Plant by acting on a tip with information about this location. They concluded that the tires from the Hornet had been swapped with another vehicle’s worn-out tires and the hubcaps had just been dumped. Law enforcement is still uncertain if Robert’s car was stripped and ransacked in a separate crime unrelated to his disappearance or if there is a connection between the events.
Sheriff Alan Shanks, a lead investigator in Robert’s disappearance, stated in 1986 that he believes Robert Christian is no longer alive. In his opinion, Robert was most likely abducted near where the vehicle was discovered and then taken to a second location outside of Sauk County.
Just three years after Robert’s disappearance, Lewis and Carolynn Christian suffered another immense tragedy when their 22 year old daughter Catherine was killed in a tavern purposely set on fire by members of the Ghost Riders motorcycle gang. Three men were convicted of purposely killing Catherine in this fire to prevent her from informing police of their activities. Law enforcement found no evidence of a connection between Robert’s disappearance and Catherine’s death and Lewis and Carolynn Christian have publicly supported this assessment.
Robert Christian’s disappearance continues to be a mystery. He was not depressed, he had no known enemies, and he did not have a reputation as being heavily reliant on drugs. He was 5’10” and wore eyeglasses with thick lenses.
Investigators have received many inquiries regarding skeletal remains possibly matching Robert’s description and have followed many leads throughout the years with no success. Robert’s family continues to search for him by walking through the woods of Sauk County whenever they can.
Information and tips on Robert’s location should be directed to:
Scott Dadam, Detective Sauk County Sherriff’s Office 608-356-4895
You can find more on NamUs: National Missing and Unidentified Person System Case UP9586
"Search Continues for Missing Man." Wisconsin State Journal. September 20, 1977.
"Madison Man Still Missing." Wisconsin State Journal. October 08, 1977.
"Bikers Found Guilty: 3 Convicted of Murder and Arson." Chicago Tribune. October 25, 1985.
"Couple Keep Hope Alive in Search for Missing Son." Wisconsin State Journal. September 28, 1986.